Is there any difference between the "Middle Ages" and the "Dark Ages"?

  • 4
    You have uncovered the dirty secret of historians, which is that they just make up stuff as they go along and use words and terms that have no certain meaning. Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 15:07
  • 1
    @TylerDurden :-) Although I wouldn't go so far as to say that feudalism itself never existed; as is en vogue in some modern historiographic circles. Commented Oct 10, 2014 at 3:35

5 Answers 5


The "Middle Ages" or medieval period generally refers to the entire time span between classical antiquity and the modern era in Western history. The Middle Ages lasted approximately AD 500 - 1500, from the fall of the (Western) Roman Empire to the fall of the Byzantine Empire and the discovery and colonization of the New World. The Middle Ages are often partitioned into the Early, High, and Late Middle Ages.

The "Dark Ages" in the context of medieval Europe refers to a period roughly synonymous with the Early Middle Ages, AD 500 - 1000, but exact limits have changed reflecting developments in the related historiography. The centuries immediately following the fall of Rome were marked by barbarian invasions, population decline, cultural and economic deterioration, and (to modern historians) a lack of records, hence the "dark" moniker.

This concept originated with the Italian poet Petrarch in the 1330s and referred the whole medieval period, but has since been pared down. However its use is now the subject of controversy among historians, who increasingly consider it misleading and biased by Renaissance era thought.

  • 1
    And here I always thought that the time of the Inquisition was the dark ages...
    – noocyte
    Commented Oct 12, 2011 at 5:07
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    Well, if you look at the Wikipedia article, "Dark Ages" in its modern use includes everything up to the 13th century. It is a period with only few written records so that it is "dark" to historians (which is the primary reason for th ename). But that is connected to a general cultural decline of course. Commented Oct 12, 2011 at 8:21
  • I should note the use of "Dark Ages" has evolved and is becoming somewhat controversial. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_Ages_%28historiography%29 Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 14:07

Dr. Susan Snyder, my medieval and ancient history professor, argued that the term "Dark Age" was inappropriate for the early Middle Ages because we still have some records from it and some innovation took place. If we said "Dark Age" in class, we had to be referring to the Greek Dark Age, a period with some actual gaps in the historic record. We lose track of almost all connection between pre- and post-Dark Age writing forms, almost as though people lost the ability to write during that period. (Linear B disappeared entirely, Linear A influences later writing in Cyprus.)

Regarding the Middle Ages, Snyder is an enthusiastic Medievalist, thus her offense to the term "Dark" in reference to it. But most people probably mean the early Middle Ages when they say it.


Note that "Dark Ages" is a therm with high ideological charge. Is the manichaean historical vision of the "enlightened" ilustrated from the XVIII century that oposses the Middle Ages (supposedly an age of barbarism) to the movement initiated by the french revolution, as if the Ilustrated Movementet had arisen by spontaneous generation.


The Middle Ages, is a period in World History that, according to the Gregorian Calendar, began in the immediate aftermath of the Roman Empire's collapse in 476 AD/CE-(more specifically, the collapse of the Western Roman Empire), until 1400 AD /CE, with the emergence of the (Northern) Italian Renaissance. It was a lengthy, prolonged period in world history, which is situated in between the Ancient and Modern eras. The Middle Ages, follows the Ancient era, though precedes the Modern era.

The Middle Ages was divided into 2 phases/stages; the Early Middle Ages, followed by the Late Middle Ages. The Early Middle Ages begins in 476 AD/CE and ends at around 1050 AD/CE and the Late Middle Ages begins in 1050 AD/CE and ends at 1400 AD/CE. The Early Middle Ages, was also nicknamed, "The Dark Ages", by the Northern Italian Renaissance Poet, Petrarch, while the Late Middle Ages was also nicknamed, "The Age of Scholasticism"-(I do not know which person(s) or originated the nickname, "Age of Scholasticism").

Petrarch coined the phrase, "Dark Ages" in reaction to the dull, primitive, anti-intellectual, pan-religious atmosphere and environment that engulfed and characterized much of the Italian peninsula-(as well as Northern and Western Europe, though to a lesser extent). Petrarch was a Poet who yearned and pined for the nostalgia, sentimentality and glory of Ancient Greece and Rome-(with an emphasis on the latter). For Petrarch, the magnificence and greatness of Ancient Rome was then culturally overshadowed and intellectually obscured by the near universal presence of Christianity and the Roman Catholic Church, in particular. Such a lengthy and primitive overshadowing, was, (when compared with the enlightened character and intellect of Ancient Greece and Rome), a "Dark Age". The early centuries of Christian Europe-(with an emphasis on the majority of Italy), were, according to Petrarch, the dullest, most anti-intellectual period in recorded history. Petrarch, from what I know, does not express the same level of contempt for the succeeding Late Middle Ages or "Age of Scholasticism", though was quite vocal in his critiquing of Early Medieval Christianity...a.k.a. "The Dark Ages".


The "middle ages" are anything between the collapse of Rome (400 AD) to its re-emergence in Rennaissance Italy (1400). Rennaissance means "rebirth".

The "dark ages" are the period in the middle ages which were relatively undocumented. This would definitely include 400 AD to 700 AD, and some extend it to 900 AD.

The "viking period" is 700 AD to 900 AD. Some authors include that period as the dark ages, others do not.

The "medieval period" is either the time between the dark ages and the Renaissance, 700 AD to 1400 AD, or it is the time between the end of the viking predations and the Renaissance (900-1400 AD), depending on the writer.

  • 1
    Out of the sheer curiosity of someone who is enthusiastic about history but purely on an general culture aspect - why was this answer so heavily downvoted? It does not seem to be substantially different form the others
    – WoJ
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 16:04
  • @WoJ A lot of the regulars on the forum dislike me, either because I put them to shame, or because I controvert their ideas about history, so they downvote my answers routinely regardless of their quality. I am kind of like the Scaliger of history.stackexchange.com--far ahead of my contemporaries, but hated for it. One guy often copies my answers or pieces of them and then downvotes me if you can believe that. Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 16:15
  • well, I would not say that your comments / downvotes on my (amateur) questions were particularly cheerful but I do not see a reason to retaliate by downvoting on what I perceive to be a valid and helpful answer. Must be cultural, I guess .
    – WoJ
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 16:21
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    I didn't down vote you (I'm coming to this question years later) but it could be because of your dating the beginning of the middle ages with the collapse of Rome and your dating that at c400. ??? No. Just No. And second using 1400 as the rebirth.??? Again. No.
    – Mayo
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 13:29

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